News & Events

Massachusetts Nurses Association says Nina Pham Ebola suit against Dallas employer holds hospital industry ‘accountable’

The Springfield Republican (see below) ran a great story about the MNA and NNU in our response to the Nina Pham Ebola lawsuit, highlighting our call for greater planning and protection for health care workers, and the need for the hospital industry to be held accountable for the safety of its workforce. 

The first person to contract Ebola in the United States is suing the health care facility, where she became infected last fall, after caring for a patient who died of the deadly virus, a move that is drawing support from the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Twenty-six-year-old registered nurse Nina Pham filed suit on Monday against the parent company of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas State District Court, charging the hospital knowingly allowed workers to care for Thomas Duncan, who had become infected in Liberia, without proper training or equipment. Pham also alleges the hospital made false statements about her condition and released a video without her permission. Pham was transferred for specialized care to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. She has recovered, but is said to have lingering medical problems. Another infected nurse, from the same hospital, was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and has also recovered.

"The hospital industry needs to be held accountable for the protection and safety of its workers, as the workers protect the safety of the patients," said David Schildmeier, MNA spokesperson. He sees Pham’s suit as representative of a broader call by nurses for a uniform standard on how highly infectious diseases, like Ebola, are handled in hospital settings, specifically in terms of protective equipment and quality of training.

"There should be a standardized approach for whatever infectious disease shows up next time, and hospitals should not have a choice (of equipment). The only two people, outside of Mr. Duncan, infected in the U.S. were nurses."

Schildmeier said it was the advocacy of National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the country of which the MNA is a founding member, that pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "to change its guidelines and to continue to change its guidelines" on infection control protocols as concern mounted for an Ebola outbreak here, and the Dallas case showed how unprepared hospitals were.

An outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever virus began in West African in late 2013, and became epidemic in several countries, with cases reaching Europe and the United States last spring. Health care workers need full body protective gear, as the virus spreads through infected bodily fluids, and patients are cared for in isolation. Four biocontainment units in the U.S., the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Emory University Hospital, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Mont., have the space and staff trained and equipped to handle highly infectious diseases. Few other hospitals in the country do, as witnessed by what happened in Dallas where Duncan was initially sent home, and where Pham and another nurse contracted Ebola from him.

"The National Nurses Union was very involved with nurses on the ground, communicating through email a lot about the poor planning for Ebola that drove a lot of the campaign," Schildmeier said.The NNU pushed for a presidential executive order on protocols and equipment in hospitals, similar to what is used at the biocontainments units, including full-body haz-mat suits to prevent penetration of any bodily fluid, as well as air purifying respirators.

The CDC did update its protocols with similar recommendations but discretion is given to hospitals on choice of personal protective gear. The CDC has designated 55 hospitals, across the country, to be Ebola treatment centers to which suspected cases can be transferred. These centers must have trained staff, isolation areas for treatment and protective equipment to cover a seven-day hospitalization. In Massachusetts, these centers are Baystate Medical Center; UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester; and Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, both in Boston.

Schildmeier said the MNA, which represents some 23,000 nurses from 54 of the state’s 67 hospitals, has sought to meet with all hospitals in the commonwealth to develop a standardized plan and to ensure ongoing training for such infectious diseases.
Our members are the Nina Phams of Massachusetts.

"Our members are the Nina Phams of Massachusetts. They provide the most care to patients. They are the experts, and we have experts on staff to look at protocols and know what the standards are," Schildmeirer said. He said there has been minimal response from hospitals to such a standardized approach, but praised teh Department of Public Health for its monthly meetings on the issue.

"The DPH has actively stepped up to improve protocols, but they can only recommend," Schildmeier said. "They cannot force the private sector to implement protocols. It is up to the hospitals to follow through, and doing the right thing costs money. There is agreement on haz-mat protection, but training and education needs to be monitored. There is no uniform way all workers are ready to handle this. No one expected Ebola to turn up in Texas, but it did"

Schildmeier’s words are similar to what the MNA has posted on its Facebook page: "While the hospital industry has indeed stepped up efforts to prepare for Ebola, the response continues to be uneven at best, and here in Massachusetts, few hospitals have answered the MNA’s request to work collaboratively to institute practices that will protect nurses as they care for another outbreak."

The site also includes a link to the Dallas Morning News exclusive interview with Pham, who told the paper that her only Ebola training was a handout of guidelines, and readers can vote on whether they think she was adequately protected.

The CDC has called the 2014 Ebola outbreak the "first Ebola epidemic the world has ever known."

To date, there have been 23,912 suspected cases, 14,314 confirmed cases and 8,714 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the CDC.